What can I say about “Dracula’” that will have any effect on you if you have already seen it? Hopefully, just about nothing. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola is one of a rare breed in horror cinema, one that is true to it’s literary underpinnings, critically acclaimed and generally loved by fans. Any old movie may get one or two of those elements, but all three means you are in for a real treat. Story wise, the retelling of Stoker’s classic tale holds very true, and while it is not always spot on, it keeps the theme and flavor of the original. Visually, this film is epic. You wouldn’t expect less from a seasoned and prolific director like Coppola, but you never know what goes through a director’s mind when they take on a fright flick. Lucky for the the audience, the genre and Mr. Stoker himself, “Dracula” turns out to be an amazing piece of storytelling that keeps your butt on the edge of your seat and your heart firmly in your throat.
From the story side, who can argue with a classic? Bram Stoker’s romantic, Victorian tale is one that has stood the test of time, even now with the advent of the popular and hip vampire. Most vampire stories still hearken back to the good Count as their ancestor, or at least an important part of their culture. The majesty of the story is not just in it’s title character or in the use of the vampire legend; it is also a beautiful story of eternal love. Here’s where I’m sure I’ll get slammed a bit: “Twilight” is really not so different than “Dracula”. I’m not a fan of the way they portray bloodsuckers in the teen fantasy novel, but the story of the depth of love between a murderous demon and an innocent young woman is very evident in both. From the starting gates, the two are drawn together by some mysterious force, both willing to make huge sacrifices for the other. “Twilight” seems overly dramatic these days and geared for women age 10 to 50, but was “Dracula” received any differently when it was released? “Dracula” is romance, through and through. Granted, there is a bit of the supernatural thrown in there, but the actual theme conveyed is love, not bloodlust. The big men at Universal did a great job in the 30’s of convincing us otherwise, but then again that film, like others of it’s time, only vaguely followed their literary ancestors.
The cinematography of “Dracula” is probably its most impressive and notable element. Every little thing on screen adds to the story, from shadows moving on their own to old film grain in certain scenes and the use of matte backgrounds for outdoor locations. Coppola is truly a master of his craft, and he made a point of displaying it in “Dracula”. I would like to go back to the shadows for a moment, as these are one of the most powerful elements of the opening of the film. While in Castle Dracula, the Count’s shadow seems to have a mind of it’s own. Coppola pulls this off beautifully, keeping the images subtle but very effective if you notice them. At one point the shadow begins to strangle Harker, only to retreat back to it’s master when it’s victim turns around. It is awfully eerie to see. The use of coloring in the film is also very important. Changing from warm interiors to somber exteriors, night scenes to the sunrise climax, color plays an important role in adding to the mood and tone of the scene. To get back to the basics, camera angles and shots are also used very skillfully. What I am trying to press here is that this is how a movie should be made, how a story should be told. In marketing you learn that everything in a scene takes away from everything else in that scene. Somehow, Coppola has turned the tables so that every thing in a scene adds to every other thing. This helps the audience to become completely immersed in the story and understand Stoker’s words more clearly.
While the characterization is supplied primarily by Stoker, the actors do there part to bring the story to life. Reeves plays his role well, not exceptionally, as usual. Fresh of the set of “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”, you have to give the guy some credit for the change of pace. Ryder plays the role of Mina particularly well, being the shy counter to Lucy’s free spirit (This is the weirdest part in terms of adherence to the original story, the naming of the two girls). Gary Oldman gives a downright amazing performance as Dracula, both young and old. The most intriguing, however, is Anthony Hopkins as Van Helsing. He plays an offbeat take on the famous doctor and vampire hunter one that is both humorous and thought provoking, sometimes at the same time. It is a performance best seen than explained, but one that is sure to please all audiences.
“Dracula” comes highly regarded in both the world of horror and the world of film. An Academy Award winner in Makeup, Sound Effects and Costuming, it is critically acclaimed and universally loved. It’s adherence to its source material is something not often seen in film. The acting is excellent and the scenery is lovely. As the sixth movie of my Halloween Big 7, this one is best watched very near, if not on, Halloween. It is very in tune with the holiday, being atmospheric and traditional but also including modern elements and real terror.